Remote & Async Work 4 min

Easy communication guidelines for remote teams

October 30, 2020
Preston Wickersham


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At Remote, we talk a lot about documentation, single sources of truth, and the importance of keeping things public. Communication for remote teams is part of company culture, especially international teams.

To illustrate how strongly we believe this, our handbook has an entire section dedicated to curating a culture of documentation. We also have sections on communication, how to share important updates, and asynchronous work best practices. Our employee handbook is a public document, which should tell you how seriously we take remote work documentation and communication.

Most of the time when we talk about communication, we say remote teams need to overcommunicate. By default, humans tend to do things without writing them down, so calling the right amount of communication “overcommunication” helps readjust expectations. That said, you can swing too far in the other direction if you don’t practice self-awareness.

Whether your remote team has a few people or a few hundred, keep these remote communication guidelines in mind:

It is possible to overcommunicate while working remotely.

Managers need to know how not to micromanage their remote employees. At the same time, remote employees need to feel confident enough in their roles not to take up excessive amounts of their managers’ time.

Limit use of communication tools like Slack to avoid becoming codependent on others. Sending messages is a good way to get quick answers or to enjoy some downtime with colleagues, but if you find yourself constantly waiting on someone’s answer to do something, take a step back and evaluate why you feel that way. Adopt more of an ownership mindset so you can do things, document them, and share when you’re finished.

Don’t let notifications burn you out.

One person’s “quick second” takes much more than a second out of the other person’s day. Research repeatedly shows that it takes humans anywhere from 10-30 minutes to recover fully from a distraction. When your day is full of distractions, you can’t get anything done.

Turn off notifications on email, Slack, your phone, and other communications tools when you want to focus on your work. People can still get through to you with urgent messages or phone calls, so you won’t miss anything critically important. By managing the time you spend with communications tools open, you can get more work done without feeling the burnout of constant availability.

If you aren’t documenting something, make sure someone else is.

When you have meetings, which you should do only when necessary, identify the person responsible for documenting the content at the beginning. Sometimes that means taking full notes. Other times you may just need to record the video in case someone wants to catch up later.

Don’t be afraid to call out others (nicely, of course) when they start moving away from documentation best practices. Remind people where they can find answers to their questions in the company single sources of truth (SSOTs). If conversations in an email chain or Slack thread start getting lengthy, recognize the need for a documented answer and figure out who should document it and where.

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Stick to organization and naming conventions.

As teams grow and needs change, stay on top of your SSOTs to ensure documentation evolves by design. Haphazard documentation may as well be no documentation at all, as people who can’t find answers easily default to asking questions instead of searching. Standardize information storage and naming so your team not only understands where things live currently but also where future content should live

Remember to be patient with people as they learn the ropes of your documentation strategy. You may understand where everything lives in Notion or on GitLab, but to a new hire unfamiliar with your tools, something you consider to be straightforward can look like a labyrinth.

Trying not to over- or under-communicate may feel like a delicate balance for remote teams at first. With good documentation practices and a collaborative culture, however, people should feel informed and empowered to do their jobs well.

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